Today, the House Resources Committee began consideration of a bill, H.R. 4749, introduced by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), which would eviscerate existing requirements of the nation’s primary fisheries conservation law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Mr. Gilchrest’s bill rolls back parts of the law that require government fishery managers to prevent overfishing, protect areas of ocean habitat that are essential for fish, and prevent wasteful catch and killing of non-targeted fish, birds, and other ocean life. It fails to authorize adequate funding to properly manage our nation’s fisheries and it lacks new provisions to ban the worst of the bottom trawling gear that is destroying the ocean floor.
Ocean fish populations are collapsing throughout the world and the waters surrounding the U.S. are no exception. Years of overfishing, habitat loss, and mismanagement have led to serious depletions of key populations, including cod in New England, rockfish along the Pacific Coast, red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, and white marlin along the Atlantic Coast. The population of cod in New England is 20 percent of it what is was in 1960. Last week the Pacific Fishery Management Council took difficult but critical steps of approving sweeping protections for severely depleted groundfish species – steps that could involve closing huge fishing areas along the entire Pacific coast for decades.
During consideration of the Gilchrest bill, the Resources Committee rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) that would have protected ocean fish populations, and with them our food supply and coastal communities. With fish populations crashing, the Committee had an historic opportunity to change this course and protect the oceans and fishing communities. The Rahall amendment would have strengthened the Magnuson-Stevens Act by avoiding wasted bycatch, establishing fisheries observer programs and establishing a cooperative fisheries data collection and gear development program. By rejecting the Rahall amendment, the committee is now poised to take a giant step backward by weakening the nation’s primary law to conserve and manage U.S. fisheries.
The Committee recessed today before they called for a final vote to roll back the law. It will reconvene on July 10 to finish consideration of this and other important amendments. We urge Mr. Gilchrest to use this pause in the mark-up process to reconsider some of the serious failings in his bill. At this point in our history it is critical that Congress strengthen the law to protect the viability of fish populations, our food supply and coastal economies.